The drama in Zambia’s judiciary with regard to recent attempts by State House to intervene and suspend judges took a surprising turn this week following a last-minute decision by High Court Judge Flugence Chisanga to stay the proceedings of President Michael Sata’s handpicked judicial review tribunal which was looking into alleged misconduct by one Supreme Court judge and two High Court judges. Judge Chisanga’s ruling to allow for the hearing of applications contesting the legality of two of the judges’ suspension has put in question the procedure which led to the opening of Sata’s tribunal, serving as an injunction to delay the start of their work.
In response the government has lashed out toward Judge Chisanga with attacks in state-owned media, and highly questionable comments from Justice Minister Sebastian Zulu.
The Justice Minister told The Post – a media outlet which is implicated as a defendant in one of the disputed rulings – that he was “shocked” at the order passed to reinstate two of the judges and stay the proceedings of the tribunal, saying that “it is clear that the judiciary is panicking.”
“I am very surprised that they have done that,” Zulu told the Post. “They cannot issue a mandatory injunction against the state.”
According to a statement from one of the suspended individuals, Judge Kajimanga, “I am advised by counsel and verily believe that His Excellency the President had prematurely invoked the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia by establishing the Tribunal as the complaint authority of first instance.”
Earlier this week, President Sata presided over the swearing in ceremony of the Malawian Judge Lovemore Chikopa, who was selected to oversee the tribunal investigating the three judges. The matter has become quite controversial given the nature of the case, involving the unpaid debt of 14 billion kwacha to the Development Bank of Zambia by the Post Newspaper and Mutembo Nchito, a close political ally of President Sata and his current Director of Public Prosecutions.
According to members of the opposition, Sata has arranged for this Tribunal to help his friends steal 14 billion kwacha from the Zambian taxpayer, constituting a form of corruption.